In the Wilderness -- Essentials of Survival


Our “Why” in Creating our In the Wilderness Adult Training

In the past half century Brian has been going into wilderness areas, first hiking and hunting a few days a month and now, for the past 18 years, hiking has become his daily commute to his classroom in the forest. Over time Brian has come to the conclusion that too many people are venturing away from the security and comfort of their homes and workplace into the wilderness without having basic skills. The basic skills we thought were common sense, the skills that we learned from the people around us growing up.

You might laugh at some of the examples we are about to give but they are all real; spend your time in the backcountry and you will see these things happen to others, if you are in a recreational area listen to the emergency frequencies on a scanner, or read the incident reports from a search and rescue team (SAR) and you will understand how often ALL of these things and more happen.

You should not drive down a wilderness highway without being prepared to spend hours or days before help can get to you. Mountain roads get washed-out; roads get blocked by downed trees and powerlines, radiator hoses fail, batteries die, axels break, fuel runs out, GPS can be wrong or fail. With the proper skills these are only inconveniences rather than life-threatening, but to many, they do become life-threatening.

You should not leave your car without knowing these lifesaving skills. Hikers get separated from their groups simply because they stepped off the trail to pee, they were looking at the view or taking a selfie and the edge broke free, or they were outside of their physical capabilities.

Groups have been rescued because they did not understand how difficult or how long the hike was, a storm blew in, and the cold and dark of night was on them before they knew it. Leaders have gotten their whole group lost, forks get missed or wrong forks taken, the springs shown on a map after hours of hiking are dry, or the GPS or GPS apps they were relying on failed or were wrong.

People have gotten in desperate situations because a boot, pack, poncho, cotton hoody, or compass was not as good as they thought when they needed them the most. Individuals and groups have gotten into survival situations because they were unprepared for a weather change. The past 2 years campgrounds and trails have been over-run with wildfire.

People get hurt or killed each year with encounters with wildlife, predatory and non-predatory. Yes people are killed by bears but did you know more people are killed by moose in North America than bears, and the bigger killer of hikers is the bee sting. An encounter with bad people in the backcountry is also a real concern but animal encounters are truly not the big killer.

Injuries occur; ankles get rolled walking, legs are broken on creek crossings, heat exhaustion, dysentery, dehydration, even a bad blister have made day hikes emergency events. Some end okay with help from strangers, some required large amounts of costly emergency resources, others the subjects did not come back alive. Many of the situations Brian has listed would never have occurred with training and mentored experiences.

The most experienced and skilled people can have some of these things happen to them or to members of the groups they are leading. Brian and I have had injuries, we have had members of groups we were leading get injured, Brian and I have gotten disoriented, we have had minor and major equipment fail, we have encountered predators both man and beast but what is key because of years of training, skills, experience, preparation, and habits minor events stayed just that minor events and not becoming survival situations or situations that we could not self-rescue from. When a true survival emergency occurs, skills, training, and experience will foster clear-headed logic and critical thinking; without skills, training, and experience panic may be the outcome and PANIC IS the real killer.

Summer of 2015 a 62 year old women fell in the Sierra Nevada. She had been out hiking with a group and became separated. She broke both legs and her back, after nine days of being alone she was rescued, one of our former students was key in locating her which is what brought our attention to the case. Because of her simple actions and preparation, she was alive at day nine and was location detected by a 14 year-old volunteer who was training with SAR. He was far from her when he detected her location. She was not only rescued but recovered from her injuries.

Compare her to Geraldine Largay who disappeared from a through hike on the Appalachian Trail July 23, 2013 when she merely stepped off the trail to pee. She was also in her 60s, she had backpacked for years, and she had already hiked roughly 900 miles of the trail; she lost her bearings then panicked. Her last journal entry was three weeks later. Her body, her gear, and her journal were found October 2015

Fall of 2016 Brian started wading through the released documents of the Largay investigation including her journal, evidence at the scene, and testimony. He compared both of these cases, both were women in their 60s, both had hiked for years, one had major injuries, but only the resources of her daypack; she should have died but was found and rescued. The other lady had no injuries and all the resources of her backpack she had prepared for a through hike of the Appalachian Trail, and remarkably she had rescuers within 100 ft from her just a week from her getting lost, yet she perished in three weeks.

In comparing the two cases and good practices in wilderness skills Brian found more than a dozen things; simple acts that Largay did or didn’t do that would have reversed the outcome, most we thought were common sense especially for those that had been on as many backpacking trips as her. These two cases prompted us to start reading Emergency Services and Search and Rescue reports. Brian and I were not only looking at what got people into trouble but what they did that made fast recoveries possible and what many did that made rescues difficult or turned a rescue into a body recovery. It was apparent that adults were getting into trouble, even leaders of both adult and kid groups were getting themselves and the people they were responsible for in situations that SAR had to save them from. These people lacked the most basic skills that we thought were common sense. That was the catalyst for us to assemble our Ladies In the Wilderness Workshops and because of popular demand later grew into this coed In the Wilderness program. For nearly 20 years Brian has been teaching these same skills to youth in our camps and school, it was time to offer them to adults.

Our goal in our adult wilderness programs is to get adults trained and experienced in these skills and habits so they can safely go into nature alone or with their families. Our adult programs include workshops like basic skills of going on a day hike to go fishing to advanced skills such as packing for survival on off road 4X4 travels, bush plane flights, camping in ice, and more. Even in our basic skills workshops people with decades of experience working daily in the wilderness learn new valuable skills in these workshops.

Additionally our goal of Ladies in the Wilderness program is to empower women through training and experiences with skilled mentors to develop these same skills and habits and as well as others unique to women and mothers in a learning environment more suited to women. We want women to have the confidence, backed by solid training and experience, to venture into the backcountry alone or with their children. We want them to make awesome memories and open doors for their kids that would otherwise not be available. Life is an adventure, get outdoors in nature, be safe, be prepared, be trained, and make lifelong happy memories happen. Click herefor more information our ladies only program, Ladies in the Wilderness.

We offer these trainings on our land in Idaho or put the workshops on the road and bring the training to your group. We also offer certification training for teachers, and certifications specifically for US Veterans.

Intro to In the Wilderness Training: Essentials of Survival

Yes you should not go into the wilds without having mastery of these basic skills, you should not drive down a wilderness highway, and you should not leave your car without knowing these lifesaving skills. Mountain roads get washed-out, roads get blocked by downed trees and power lines, cars breakdown, hikers get separated from their group, leaders get the group lost or didn’t understand the difficulty of the trail, people get injured, the GPS may be wrong or failed. There are skills beyond survival we believe you should learn to have the most enjoyable wilderness experience each time you go out. We also go over the pros and cons of various gear for your own particular needs, you will get to try out gear before you decide to buy. You will discover the more you know the less you need to buy and carry.

This workshop is the starting point, these are the skills we want all my hiking companions to have before going out so we all have a good experience. After completing all of the workshops in Essentials of Survival and Deep Wilderness Access: Off Road Driving and Deep Wilderness Access: Backpacking you could start leading deep wilderness backpacking trips. You may also decide that you would like to get certified to teach any of the workshops we teach or become a mentor working with us; this is your starting point.

The point is to have the skills to have great memories and continue to enjoy what wilderness areas offer for many years and to raise your bar to have new adventures with great experiences under our mentorship.

FYI, these are the same skills and materials taught as are in our total immersion Northwestern Outdoor Leadership Institute certification classes less the deep practice and testing. Session E01: Basic Survival Skills and Session E02: Fire must be completed before attending any other session in the block. The Essentials block must be completed before any session from any other block can be taken. Having the skills in this block you could survive up to 3 weeks with what you have in your daypack.


Session EOS 01: Basic Survival Skills

These are the most basic skills necessary to have as well as making informed decisions in selecting basic gear to have an enjoyable hiking, hunting, or backpacking trip or to survive if seperated from the leader.

Please Note: You must have these basic skills mastered of EOS-01 and EOS-02 before moving on to additional skills workshops as they build on these skills.

Please Note:This workshop is a prerequiste to all other workshops we offer

This class is also taught as part of our Women in the Backcountry Workshops


Session EOS 02: Fire

Humans evolved with fire it is key to our survival and growth. It keeps us warm, sterilizes water, it cooks our food; it signals that we need help, it is necessary to make tools, and it changes the brain chemistry. Yes an evening fire triggers the brain to release hormones to provide a good night’s sleep, to heal our bodies, to bond us, and to stimulate conversation of the past. The confidence you get when you know you can build fire with only that which you can find in nature raises you to a new level; this confidence will make you walk taller. This is 2 ½ days of all things fire. Emergency fire making, primitive fire making, making earthen and hobo stoves and of course safety with fire. This class has something for the newbie through that which will challenge a master. You will not only have these new skills but will build friction fire kits.

Please Note: Successful completion of E01: Basic Survival Skills is required before enrolling in this workshop. E01 and E02 are required before taking all other workshops we offer. You must have these basic skills mastered of E01 and E02 before moving on to additional skills workshops as they build on these skills.


Session EOS 03: Shelter

You can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 hours without shelter from cold or heat. Next to panic exposure is the number one killer in the backcountry. Every year people die in the US; this camp will teach you all how to make a 5 minute shelter that will keep you dry and alive. We will also build various shelters for longer stays. Our K-12 school is outside rain or shine and in a comfortable environment. Brian has lived and taught and made and stayed in shelters to protect himself from the hot blowing sand of the deserts of the Owens Valley to subzero blowing snow of the mountains of northern Utah.

Please Note: Successful completion of E01: Basic Survival Skills and EOS 02: Fire are required before enrolling in this workshop.


Session EOS 04: Cordage, Rope, Knots, Rigging, and Glues

Universal to all facets of survival and thriving is thread, cord, rope and glue. To have, make, and skillfully use thread, cordage, and rope will all you to make shelter, potable water, trap food, make clothing and countless our survival tasks. You will learn that the more skills you have using lines and knots the less equipment you will need to carry. We will learn to make these from fibers found in nature or scavenged from manmade. We will learn to apply those tools to stitch, tie, bind, suspend, heft, fish, trap, and restrain

Please Note: Successful completion of E01: Basic Survival Skills and EOS 02: Fire are required before enrolling in this workshop.


Session EOS 05: Potable Water, Finding and Making Drinking Water

We don’t need to tell you the importance of water, this class is all about having water to drink. We start with locating surface water, determining the safety of the water, making the water safe. You will learn to use store bought chemicals and equipment, making water safe with what you have in nature, making fresh water from sea water.

Please Note: Successful completion of E01: Basic Survival Skills and EOS 02: Fire are required before enrolling in this workshop.


Session EOS 06: Navigation

Many people get themselves in trouble relying on electronic devices for navigation and seeking help. In this session we will go deep into finding your way in and out of unfamiliar territory using the basic navigation tools We will determine your location from an object off in the distance without using a map. We will also develop skills in map making so you or others can find a given location, basic navigation with the stars, and telemetry.

Please Note: Successful completion of E01: Basic Survival Skills and EOS 02: Fire are required before enrolling in this workshop.


Session EOS 07: Cooking On the Fire

The class goes deep into cooking in Dutch ovens, cooking directly on the fire on rocks or planks, and cooking in pits. We will cook everythings from game meats to pastries. No freeze dried food in this class. Depending on the time of the year and location of the class we may do some foraging.

Please Note: Successful completion of E01: Basic Survival Skills and EOS 02: Fire are required before enrolling in this workshop.

In the Wilderness


"When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me, no matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them."
—Geraldine Largay her last journal entry nearly 4 weeks after steeping from the trail
"Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival"
—W. Edwards Deming